Using Zoom – managing it feeling uncomfortable, anxiety provoking or exposing.

Using Zoom, Skype, Facetime or other video calling services is a wonderful way to stay connected, work and be active, especially whilst we are in lockdown. However, many people are talking about feeling exhausted, in really extreme ways, feeling anxious, getting headaches and finding the experience really intense and overwhelming at times.


Here are a few ideas why that might be, and what solutions might help us to manage a little better.

From a neurobiological perspective:

Staring straight ahead triggers the fight, flight and freeze response of the human brain. We stare when were scared, so doing this makes the brain think something is wrong/unsafe. Having this part of the brain turned on can mean:

  • some additional adrenalin/cortisol: leaving us a bit shaky or anxious
  • our body may breathe a bit fast, or very slow, we might feel tense in our muscles or feel sort of floppy and disconnected
  • we might not feel fully online or connected to ourselves, others, or even the environment.
  • Over time this can leave use feeling anxious, stresses and fatigued.

Looking at a staring face, or a whole bunch of staring faces, that are unexpressive (neutral face) also triggers the above response. As the animal part of us perceives this facial expression as one that means something is wrong.

Also, in reality we rarely sit, absolutely face to face, this is also seen by our brains threat response centre as threatening. Think ‘squaring off’ like you do before a fight or argument. This is how we all sit during Skype sessions!


Experiment

If you live with someone, try sitting opposite each other, take turns making your face completely relax, go all neutral and just stare, see how you feel looking at this type of face.


Letting peripheral vision and sound in:
Peripheral vision is what’s not on the screen, peripheral sounds, are the ones not coming from your PC or device, the sounds in and around your space.
When we are in a frightening situation our eyes focus closely onto one thing: the threat. The inner ear also makes changes that mean we only hear a small range of sounds, so we can hear threat (screams or animals sneaking up) and not everything else.
So you can see being on a video call could easily make your brain think there is a threat, your bodies behaviour is so similar to when something frightening’s happening, the brain responds as if it is.

Solutions:

  • Look up and away regularly during calls
  • Try allowing your focus to fade, so you see the screen within the wider room it is in, try holding your arms put to the side in a T shape, wiggle your fingers, if you can see them, your peripheral vision is on, try allowing this soft wife focus to come on during zoom calls
  • Smile and nod as you would in person, as much as is possible, don’t exhaust yourself!
  • Have yourself slightly off centre, or turned slightly so your not dead centre to the screen
  • Don’t use head sets, or if you need to, just put one ear bud in, so you can still hear some of your own background noise – Try lowering your screens brightness and perhaps use a blue light filter if your experiencing headaches or eye strain.
  • It’s ok to shift and move, don’t sit frozen for long periods of time. Try pressing each foot into the ground, then both feet, try pressing each hand into your thigh, then both hands, try letting the jaw release. Breath fully and deeply into the belly.
  • In between video calls, stand, shake your body, do this as slight bounce from the knees, let the muscles relax and jiggle, like you maybe done as a child 🙂 breath out longs noisy sighs and make yourself yawn, close your eyes, also move your eyes, left, right, up and down. Try tapping lightly with to get tips on your head, face and below the collar bone on your upper chest (this should feel good, not painful!)
  • During and in between calls try pressing first your right then left feet into the ground, try pressing both into the ground until you feel the tension rise into your belly. Pressing on the in breath, releasing on the out breath
  • During and in between calls try pressing your right hand into your right thigh, then left hand into left thigh, do this very gently only so you feel a very slight tension in your belly. Pressing on the in breath, releasing on the out breath.
  • If you have other work on your screen try turning notifications off whilst doing a call, not doing multiple work tasks whilst meeting with others, where possible.
  • If you can try not to have a blank white screen behind you, this an be triggering to those with anxiety. Allow a bit of realness in, a plant, some colour, it allows us to feel more connected in this disconnected video calling world.
  • Consider turning your video off sometimes if seeing yourself leaves you feeling self conscious or vulnerable, this is a really common feeling.You can click on the three little dots on your video box, and choose hide self view of you still want to see the other person and them see you, this option is like speaking to people in real time, where we don’t see our own face all the time!

Maybe make a phone call once in a while instead 🙂